THE new strain of coronavirus is spreading faster outside of China for the first time since it emerged, with South America reporting its first case and a 60-year-old man becoming France’s first victim.

The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the number of new cases of Covid-19 recorded outside of China on Tuesday had exceeded the number within China, but he did not provide specific figures.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said the “primary objective of all countries with cases must be to contain the virus”.

He added: “The sudden increases of cases in Italy, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Korea are deeply concerning.”

China has now reported 78,190 cases including 2,718 deaths since December, but incidence has been slowing since February 2. On Tuesday, there were only 10 new cases outside of Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak.

The rest of the world has seen 2,790 cases diagnosed in 37 countries to date, with 44 deaths. It has now spread to every continent except Antarctica.

The Scottish Government is stepping up preparations, with Health Secretary Jeane Freeman saying they are “expecting an outbreak” although no one has yet tested positive for the virus in Scotland.

There are 13 confirmed cases so far in the UK, eight of whom have been discharged from hospital.

Around four in five people who contract the virus – which belongs to the same family as the common cold – will develop a minor illness and make a full recovery. Those most at danger are the elderly or people with underlying health conditions.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said today that he has written to employers to stress that anyone who needs to stay indoors – or “self-isolate” – due to potential coronavirus symptoms or exposure is entitled to sick leave.

He said: “Self-isolation on medical advice is considered sickness for employment purposes.

“It’s a very important message for employers and for those who can go home and self-isolate as if they were sick because it’s for medical reasons.”

The Government said that if you order food from delivery during the period, you should ask the driver to leave the food outside the door.

It comes after the Scottish Government issued updated guidance, advising anyone who had recently returned from Iran, Hubei Province, Daegu or Cheongdo South Korea and parts northern Italy, which are currently in lockdown due to coronavirus, should self-isolate for 14 days, even if they are showing now symptoms.

Any other travellers returning from parts of Italy north of Pisa, Florence and Rimini in the past week, or from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, have also been advised to self-isolate if symptoms emerge. Authorities in Italy have reported the number of people infected in the country grew to 322, or up 45 per cent in 24 hours, and 11 people have now died.

Austria, Croatia and Switzerland also reported their first cases linked to the outbreak in Italy, while Spain and France recorded new ones, also involving people who had been to northern Italy.

In France, a 60-year-old teacher died in a Paris hospital after being admitted in a critical condition on Tuesday night.

He is the first French fatality, although an 80-year-old Chinese tourist died in Paris earlier this month in what was the first Covid-19 death outside of Asia.

The first positive test in South America has also been recorded in a 61-year-old Brazilian man who had recently visited northern Italy.

Meanwhile in Tenerife, around 160 British holidaymakers at a coronavirus-hit hotel have been told they could be quarantined until March 10.

The Foreign Office is in touch with Britons at the four-star H10 Costa Adeje Palace hotel, who have been told they will have to stay put for 14 days after an Italian couple staying at the resort were diagnosed with the virus.